Izhar Roslan
Youth and Humanitarian Advocate

Assalamualaikum! Tell me more about yourself.

Waalaikumussalaam warahmatullahi wabarakatuh!

I kinda stalled on this question for a long long time, to be honest! I’d like to think that I am idealistic and believe that things can happen when you try hard enough.

I advocate for youth and humanitarian causes. The recent swell of displaced communities due to war and the apparent negligence of human rights and protection are issues that I constantly discuss online and with people around me. I also find meaning in reaching out to underprivileged and at-risk youths in Singapore. Youth work happens to be my first job back in 2008.

I am also a strong self-critic so I would read all that I shared above and question whether I am being a tad pretentious. This struggle is a perfect summary of who I am: A being that seeks balance in my outlook and in whatever I do.

You are a youth activist, currently working with RLA Foundation (RLAF). Tell us more about your experiences.

I feel like the opportunity to work for RLAF was timely. The organisation was known to fundraise for humanitarian crises and I was eventually brought in to help rally youths towards collective good. In retrospect, it was a tipping point for me as I realised that I could do more beyond youth work.

That also sets the tone to what I can bring to RLAF – I want to help youths realise that they can do more with the right push and support. I’m blessed to have met and worked with individuals who are unbelievably passionate and capable on the activism front. While I mainly support by giving training and grant support, I think that building relationships is meaningful. I become friends with most of whom I work with.

What’s the most beautiful moment you’ve experienced during your humanitarian work?

I was on holiday at Bremen in 2016 and very much aware of the influx of refugees to Europe. I had a bit of free time so I decided to visit a refugee hostel near my family’s place. There and then, I met my first refugee friend, Amanullah, an Afghan from Kabul who had recently fled to Germany due to the ongoing war back home.

He couldn’t speak any English and I know no Pashto. We kinda stared at each other a lot and spoke through a friend who was translating back and forth. His first direct question to me was ‘’You Muslim?’’. Surprised that I am, he proceeded to cook a Kabuli Palau dish. That moment at the dining table broke down whatever barrier we had.

I understood from him that while refugees in Germany are better protected than anywhere else, most still have sleepless nights as they are traumatised by the wars back home. Amanullah misses his family but can’t risk going back home fearing execution by the Taliban regime.

We are still in touch 2 years on and I’ll be meeting him in Bremen again this December. Amanullah now has his own apartment and is working in the automotive industry.

You started 2 successful social media campaigns to raise funds for Lombok and Palu. How and why did you start them?

Beyond the fundraising campaigns by RLAF, I thought I could personally do more to raise awareness on humanitarian crises, especially among the young digital crowd. I was exploring ways to get youths to be part of the giving.

Fortunately for Lombok, the Dele Alli challenge broke the internet. I remember being in a meeting that morning, saw it on my feed and did a spontaneous IG story saying that I’ll pledge $2 for Lombok for every submission. In my mind, I honestly downplayed the reach I would get and was willing to commit up to $50. I guess the ‘’hook’’ was right as my IG inbox become filled with submissions.

Then, the earthquakes in Sulawesi happened. It was even more challenging as I had no leverage at that point. No trending challenge. Just momentum and support from the previous campaign. Four Word Postcards was built on the assumption that perhaps people will still contribute without a trending challenge in place. Fortunately, I was proven right.

The 2 campaigns got more than 640 submissions and raised more than $3,000 for both Lombok and Sulawesi. It was surprising to see peers and kind-hearted strangers taking the effort to spread the word. There were also times when I questioned my decision to pledge and got worried about breaking my own wallet but friends and families came in to help pledge donations. For all these acts of kindness, I am thankful.

Were there difficulties? How did you overcome them?

Perhaps, the biggest challenge I faced was with the Dele Challenge. I was really questioning the ethical implication of raising awareness through a seemingly trivial challenge. What if the people of Lombok see these Dele tries and get offended by them? Are we making fun of their plight?

We were into Day 3 of the challenge when Abg Tahar Jumat, who was in Lombok at that time, sent me a thread on Whatsapp. A number of people from Lombok themselves did the challenge. I am, to this day, touched by their gesture of support. It was personally very meaningful and reaffirmed that yeah, probably I was doing it right after all.

Who inspires you the most? Why?

I would usually talk about Nadya Hutagalung because of her conservation efforts but today, I’m dedicating this space for my father. He is such a selfless person and those who know him personally would agree with me. He is always willing to help, always putting others before himself.

I still remember a childhood incident when the kitchen of a restaurant we were dining in caught fire. My father, being an ex-fireman, rushed in to fight the fire. We couldn’t see anything through the thick grey smoke but then he emerged with bits of ashes all over his top. He brushed them off, sat down and finished his meal as if nothing happened. Like ‘Hello ayah, you just fought fire and still can eat ah?’ I would be shaking to my bones.

But I guess we are so used to him putting others before himself that we got desensitized and forget to appreciate him for who he is. He has given his all for community work (he still does!) and expects nothing in return. That in itself is downright inspiring.

What’s your favorite verse from the Quran?

“Then do they not look at the camels – how they are created? And at the sky – how it is raised? And at the mountains – how they are erected? And at the earth – how it is spread out?” [Surah Al-Ghashiyah, 17-20]

This verse is a reminder for me that we are all part of an order or system that we can never fully understand. Our job is to find meaning in the complexity of things.

What do you want to say to people who want to help others but don’t know where to start?

I would firstly suggest to start doing something that you are passionate about and to not worry whether you are competent enough to do it. I think there is so much self-doubt; we fear to be in uncomfortable spaces. Let’s embrace the fact that one can never be ready enough.

Secondly, to work towards self-awareness. The best starting point is to pay attention to crises happening locally and abroad. Read more and figure out what we can bring to the table. We need to contribute to the larger giving community.

Because as a collective, we can do so much more.